George Herbert Hirst

George Herbert Hirst

Infobox Historic Cricketer

nationality = English
country = England
country abbrev = Eng
name = George Herbert Hirst
picture = George Herbert Hirst.jpg
batting style = Right-handed batsman (RHB)
bowling style = Left arm medium-fast (LMF)
tests = 24
test runs = 790
test bat avg = 22.57
test 100s/50s = 0/5
test top score = 85
test balls = 4,010
test wickets = 59
test bowl avg = 30.00
test 5s = 3
test 10s = 0
test best bowling = 5-48
test catches/stumpings = 18/0
FCs = 826
FC runs = 36,356
FC bat avg = 34.13
FC 100s/50s = 60/201
FC top score = 341
FC balls = 123,328
FC wickets = 2,742
FC bowl avg = 18.73
FC 5s = 184
FC 10s = 40
FC best bowling = 9-23
FC catches/stumpings = 605/0
debut date = 13 December
debut year = 1897
last date = 28 July
last year = 1909
source =

George Herbert Hirst (born in Kirkheaton, Huddersfield, Yorkshire on 7 September 1871 - 10 May 1954), often known as "George Herbert", was a professional cricketer for Yorkshire and England.

The early years

Hirst was born in 1871 and raised in the 'Brown Cow', the public house run by his grandparents in this small Huddersfield village. He left school at 10, working first as a wirer for a handloom weaver and then in Robson's dyeworks. In 1888 - when Hirst was 16 - Kirkheaton Cricket Club paid the former Yorkshire professional Allen Hill, taker of Test cricket's first wicket, to coach its youngsters. It was the only formal coaching Hirst ever received. Hirst had started playing for the village side at the age of 15 and by 18 was in the Huddersfield team. He may well have played against another local hero W.W. Lancaster who started at [ Thongsbridge Cricket Club] and who also played for Yorkshire but a few years earlier in 1895.

His wholehearted efforts in the Huddersfield and District League won him a trial with Yorkshire in 1889, although he did not play for the first team until 1891. He liked to recall in his later days that he carried his kit, worth ten shillings, to the ground in a canvas bag and wore a shilling cap, a sixpenny belt and brown boots.

Only in 1893, when Yorkshire won the official county championship for the first time, did he secure a regular place in the side as a bowler who bowled 'straight and quick'. He took 99 scalps in that season but batted at number 10 though as a sign of things to come he hit a valuable unbeaten 35 in a low-scoring match against Gloucestershire that impressed W.G. Grace. His skill with the willow blossomed the following season and he developed a well deserved reputation for stout defence in adversity. Bowling was still his stronger suit however, he took 98 more wickets, just missing the magic 100 again.

In his pomp

Promoted to open the attack in 1895 at the dawn of cricket's Golden Age, he passed 150. He often bowled in tandem with bucolic left-arm spinner Bobby Peel, and the two formed a deadly combination. His run up was long by the standards of the time and began, like Sir Richard Hadlee's many decades later, with a peculiar hop, step and jump before he hurled himself through the bowling crease with tireless energy. In stark contrast to the pacemen of today he stood just five feet six inches, but, like Fred Trueman, was notably strong in the shoulders and thighs. A contemporary, Albert Knight, described him as "a great 'natural' genius, frank and open, yet blending scientific orthodoxy with primitive skill."

As a batsman of compact, powerful build he was best known for the ferocity of his pulling and hooking, although he could drive and cut with the best of them. He favoured the on-drive and, in the professional rather than amateur manner, was strongest on the leg side. Like Sir Donald Bradman he saw the pull as a shot to be played against all but the fullest of deliveries and he often went down on his right knee and bludgeoned the ball to leg in the manner of a modern 'slog sweep'.

As hungry for wickets as his pupil George Macaulay he was held to be as fair as Hedley Verity on the field. His obituary in The Times said "he brought to everything he did a courage, an integrity, a vigour and a tenacity that meant that no game in which he took part was decided until the last ball had been bowled and the last stroke made."

1896 brought a second championship success for Yorkshire and the 'double' for Hirst. His 1122 runs and 104 wickets that year and more success in 1897 saw him rewarded with selection for the 1897/98 M.C.C. tour to Australia. Far from the softer green wickets of home, he struggled in Australian conditions and a long term leg strain made 1898 the worst season of his career. Yorkshire went from strength to strength however as Wilfred Rhodes made his debut and, with prolific medium pacer Schofield Haigh, the trio dominated county cricket until the Great War.

In his younger days he was renowned as a brilliant fielder at mid-off, a vital position as amateur batsman favoured the off drive in an era when ground fielding was a neglected art. Wisden claimed he was almost worth his place in the 1899 Test team on his fielding alone. In all his safe hands took 604 catches in his 826 games.

By 1900 Hirst’s batting was more successful than his bowling, indeed he had not taken 100 wickets in a season since 1897. In 1900 he took only 62 but in 1901 he came back with 183, at an average of 16. Naturally he recorded the double, a feat he repeated in ten of the next eleven years. The sea change in his bowling came with a new found mastery of inswing to the right hander, or swerve as it was termed at the time. After being clean bowled by the Yorkshireman, Australian Sammy Woods, captain of Somerset, asked, "How the devil can you play a ball that comes in at you like a hard throw-in from over point?" He was probably the first bowler to employ a leg-trap of three close fielders, though he bowled at the stumps rather than at the batsman's head. He took 7 for 12 and 5 for 17 against Essex and was named one of Wisden's 5 Cricketers of the year.

Above all he loved to play the game. "His smile used almost to meet at the back of his neck," his captain Lord Hawke said. Pelham Warner called him "the ideal cricketer, so straight, so strong, so honest. It does one good to see him laugh." He was at his best in adversity. Yorkshire titan Lord Hawke noted that "It was not only what Georgie Hirst did but how he did it, coming off when an effort seemed most necessary and playing his best against the more formidable sides."

We'll get 'em in singles

1902 saw a famous Australian tour of England, dominated by the sublime batsmanship of Victor Trumper. In a wet summer Hirst twice helped bowl out the Australians for under 40. In the First Test at Edgbaston he played a vital innings of 48 and took three wickets to Rhodes' seven to roll Australia for 36 in under an hour. The tourists were saved by the return of the rain which had caused their downfall. Charles Fry later commented that "Well as Rhodes bowled, it was Hirst who was responsible for the debacle. This is the best instance I know of the bowler at the other end getting wickets for his colleague."

Yorkshire succeeded where England had failed, defeating the Australians in the next tour match at Headingley. On a treacherous pitch the Australians were bundled out for a mere 23 (Hirst five for 9, Stanley Jackson five for 12). At 20 for three Hirst bowled the scintillating Trumper with what he later described as the best ball of his life, and the tourists resistance collapsed.

Hirst was notoriously dropped for the Fourth Test at Old Trafford on the whim of Captain Archie MacLaren and England lost by 3 runs when Fred Tate of Sussex, father of Maurice, dropped a vital catch. Even more famous is the Oval Test of 1902 and the last-wicket stand between Hirst and Rhodes that secured a nail biting finish for England. Known as Jessop's Match after Gilbert's wonderful century, it was Hirst’s as well, as he scored 101 runs for once out – he never to hit a Test century – and took six wickets. His 43 in the first innings was instrumental in England saving the follow-on and second time around he was still at the crease when last man Rhodes, still regarded mainly as a bowler, joined him at the crease with 15 needed to win. Legend has it that Hirst greeted Rhodes with his plan - "We’ll get them in singles" although Rhodes disclaimed the story, not every run was a single and Hirst later said he couldn't recall what his words had been.

County colossus

1903 was one of Hirst's great years. Despite missing several matches with a damaged calf muscle, he recorded another double, averaging 47 with the bat and under 15 with the ball, the best of his career so far.

In 1903/04 Hirst toured Australia again with greater success. His cheerful nature made him a popular tourist and he once again proved his mettle in a crisis. The First Test was in the balance when England fell to 82 for 4 with 194 needed to win but Hirst came in to share a vital partnership with Tom Hayward and stayed unbeaten to seal a five wicket win. England lost the 3rd test, despite Hirst's hundred runs over two innings, and he took several top order wickets with his sharp inswing.

Hirst took his county benefit in 1904 and received a record sum. For three successive years he took posted more than 2000 runs and 100 wickets. In 1904 a leg strain took the edge off his pace but his swing and accuracy remained. In his benefit match against Lancashire he hit 65 with his side in dire straits and took six for 42 with the ball.

In 1905, still playing through the pain, he amassed 341 against Leicestershire, the record individual score for Yorkshire. Hirst went in at 22 for 3 in reply to Leicestershire's 419 and batted for seven hours, hitting a six and 53 fours. He also scored a double-century against Surrey when all around him had fallen.

Best season

Remarkably his best season came in 1906 when he was 35 and nursing another chronic knee injury. In one eight week spell, from May 7 to June 30, playing two three-day matches each week for Yorkshire, he sent down 639 overs and took 104 wickets. Not content with carrying the bowling, he carried the batting too, piling up 1,113 runs at number 5 by the end of June.

Yorkshire had dominated the Championship since the turn of the twentieth century, winning it four years out of six, but were in a tight race with Surrey, Lancashire and Kent for the title that year. Every game was vital with the points system demanding a steadfast avoidance of defeat. Hirst won the top of the table class at Catford almost single handed, with a century and 11 wickets, and in the return game at Sheffield he took eight wickets and saved the game with a battling 93. At the Roses Match in Bradford he scythed down the Lancashire batting line up with 6 for 20, and turned the match at Old Trafford with an 85 that Wisden reckoned better than any of his six centuries that summer. The Times was equally effusive in its praise for his 87 on a lively Oval pitch, terming the knock "one of the greatest innings he has ever played for Yorkshire".

Yorkshire's season took a nail biting turn for the worse at Bristol on Saturday August 25 when they were set 234 to win and fell one agonising run short. This defeat cost them the Championship but though his team's chances were over Hirst's work was still not done. He had scored 1,837 runs and taken 184 wickets and the chance of a unique 'double double' remained. As the nation basked in an Indian summer he scored an unblemished century against Somerset at Bath and then took six wickets the next day. The follow on was not enforced, in an effort to rest the tiring bowlers, but Hirst batted up at number 3 in search of quick runs and duly recorded his second hundred of that match. He became only the second Yorkshireman to hit two hundreds in a game and passed 2,000 for the season in the process. On the final day he added five more wickets, becoming the only man to score two hundreds and take five or more wickets in an innings twice in the same first-class match - 111 and 117 not out, six for 70 and five for 45.

Years later Hirst told the Yorkshire bowler Bill Bowes how in the latter stages of that summer his legs felt like iron and how he massaged them night and morning with neat's-foot oil. When he asked his doctor about it, the reply was blunt: "Don't you realise, Mr Hirst, you've given your legs more use than five ordinary men in a lifetime. You're lucky if you can keep them in order with a drop of oil." There were no sports drinks in those days, Hirst's favourite tea time tipple was a small gin and sherry cocktail.

The Yorkshire team took the train to Scarborough for the match against MCC and the tireless Hirst bowled 33 more overs in his quest for his 200th scalp. He bowled Lancashire captain Archie MacLaren, had Worcestershire's Harry Foster caught at slip and by lunch he had taken his season's tally to 198, with one more following in the afternoon. Refreshed by the tea break his first ball on the resumption was skied by Somerset's Len Braund to be caught at short leg. His mother, who had become so nervous she had taken to walking the streets around the ground, knew he'd achieved his milestone by the cheers of the crowd.

In 32 matches for Yorkshire between May 7 and September 1 he scored 2,164 runs and took 201 wickets and he added a further 221 runs and seven wickets in other matches in September. MacLaren called him "the most untiring and enthusiastic cricketer who ever wore flannels".

Lord Hawke, his captain at Yorkshire, reckoned him the greatest of all county cricketers. With the reduction in the amount of county cricket now played he will certainly remain the only man to complete the "double double" of 2000 runs and 200 wickets in a season. When asked whether this record would ever be broken he replied, "I don't know, but whoever does it will be very tired". Another great Yorkshire bowler, Fred Trueman, echoed this line after taking his 300th test wicket. Bob Appleyard took 200 wickets for Yorkshire in 1951 but scored only 104 runs. "I was absolutely jiggered after what I'd done," said Appleyard "How Hirst had the energy to bat as well I can't imagine."

"Cricket is a game, not a competition," Hirst said during his playing days. "And, when you're both a bowler and a batter, you're twice as happy. You enjoy yourself twice as much."

Closing years

In 1907 he claimed 15 wickets for 63 against Leicestershire and 11 for 44 against Derbyshire, and in 1908 took an incredible 12 for 19 against Northamptonshire, bowling them out for 27 and 15 in harness with Haigh. In 1909 he played his final Tests against Australia, taking nine wickets in England's only victory, but doing little in the remaining games and fading out of Test contention after a strangely muted international career. He continued to dominate on the domestic stage however and took 9 for 23 in a Roses Match in 1910, career-best figures at the age of 38. The following year he hit his final double-century, 218 against Sussex at Hastings. At Worcester he took 9 for 41 and scored a century. He achieved the double every year until 1913, when he was 41.

1914 saw the end of the Golden Age and might have been the last of Hirst's career as he averaged over 40 with the bat, but missed a number of matches through injury and was able to take only 43 wickets, at an average of almost 30. Too old to fight at the front, Hirst played local league cricket while younger men died in the trenches. Yorkshire lost two brilliant young players in Major Booth, killed in action, and Alonzo Drake and so, with their playing ranks depleted for the resumption, Hirst returned to Yorkshire's colours at the age of 47.

His bowling powers were spent, he took only 18 wickets at 30, but he scored 180 not out in Yorkshire's first match against MCC and averaged nearly 40 for the year. Recognising the end of his first class career was at last nigh, he took the post of coach at Eton College although he continued to play in the school holidays for the next two years. He captained the Players against the Gentlemen in their Scarborough Festival match at the end of 1921 and the game, and his career, finished on his 50th birthday when he was cheered from the balcony by the adoring holiday crowd.

In 1929, at the age of 58, he was prevailed upon to play again in a Scarborough Festival match against MCC. A A Thomson tells how he scored a single before being bowled by a superb delivery from the up-and-coming Bill Bowes. Hirst turned to the bowler as he walked out and said, "A grand ball that, lad. I couldn’t have played that one when I was good."

Hirst continued to coach at Eton and schooled the next generation of bowlers at Yorkshire C.C.C. where he was venerated for his technical wisdom and kindly manner. He coached Yorkshire greats Hedley Verity and George Macaulay and continued to play club cricket until he reached 72. He died at home, 33 Glebe Street, in Huddersfield ten years later.

Yorkshire on Wednesday, August 16 2006, marked the centenary of his feat in scoring 2,000 First Class runs and taking 200 First Class wickets for the county in one season. [ [ "Yorkshire honours record that can never be broken"] , Yorkshire CCC official site]


* [ Cricket Archive Statistics]
* [ George Hirst by Patrick J.A. Neal]
* "Hirst and Rhodes" by A. A. Thomson (1960)

External links

* [ Cricinfo page on George Herbert Hirst]

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